“Inclusion” is more than just a buzzword in 2024. In a 2021 survey, 77% of stockholders said it’s important that they hold the companies they invest in accountable for their impact on society, including inequality. Failing to include entire groups of people, like those with disabilities, in your hiring, marketing, and other business practices is inequality. When your content isn’t accessible, it can’t reach people with disabilities and they are excluded.
If that’s not reason enough to make sure your digital content is accessible, consider the fact that it’s legally required by the ADA, Section 508, and many states. Thousands of lawsuits are filed annually against companies that exclude people with disabilities by leaving their content inaccessible. If you haven’t already, make 2024 the year you include everyone by prioritizing digital accessibility.
Set accessibility goals by learning about accessibility
The first step to prioritizing digital accessibility for 2024 is to figure out exactly what your goals should be. To set those goals, you’ll need to learn more about people with disabilities who will benefit from accessibility, and about the laws and standards your content will need to meet.
Learn more about people with disabilities
You probably already spend considerable time learning about your target audience- from demographics to shopping habits to website visits. Spend some time learning more about 25% of the US population who have disabilities and who will benefit from accessible digital content. This demographic has a total disposable income of nearly $500 billion, and that number increases significantly when their friends and family are considered, who may also avoid companies who don’t consider people with disabilities. The disability market is comparable to the African American market at $501 billion, and the Hispanic market at $582 billion.
How people with disabilities access digital content
You’ll also need to learn how people with disabilities access digital content. Many use assistive technology such as screen readers, which use digital coding to relay content to the end user. When you fail to properly code your content, assistive technology cannot correctly relay that information to the end user. For example, without alt text describing an image, the assistive technology would simply tell the user there’s an image on the page without any context or explanation of the image. If you’ve ever come across the frustration of a photo on social media or a website failing to load, you can understand how someone might be missing out if they can’t access visual content.
Likewise, without digital coding of PDF documents (called “tagging”), assistive technology might only tell the end user that there is a document present, but might not be able to read any of the text, lists, or tables, or describe images, charts, or other graphics. Sometimes, assistive technology might read the PDF as if it were an image, but without any description of the contents. Learning how assistive technology, particularly screen readers, access your digital content can give you a better understanding of how you can build content that meets everyone’s needs.
Learn what laws and standards you should follow
State and federal digital accessibility requirements
Including all end-users, including people with disabilities, is the main goal of accessibility, but it’s also a legal requirement. The ADA has often been applied to websites and digital content like PDFs, and many states also have laws requiring digital accessibility. There were more than 4,000 digital accessibility lawsuits in 2022 alone, and more than 1900 by July of 2023. It is projected that there will be over 4200 filed by the end of 2023. An organization need not be located in a state with strict accessibility laws to be impacted by them. If an end-user in another state with digital accessibility laws cannot access your content, you may face litigation.
WCAG for digital accessibility compliance
While the ADA and many state laws do require digital accessibility, not all tell you exactly how to achieve compliance. There are simply too many variables on each website or piece of digital content. Many court cases apply the internationally accepted guidelines called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to determine if the content meets the “accessible” requirement. WCAG is made up of basic accessibility requirements that ensure content is usable to everyone (using digital tags, captioning videos, correctly contrasting colors, removing flashing objects, etc). Instead of defining each and every possible accessibility issue on a website, WCAG asks whether content achieves four basic goals for every user–is the content perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust? State and federal digital accessibility laws require content to be “accessible,” and ensuring that your content meets WCAG guidelines will result in accessibility.
Evaluate where you are now
Checkers catch the basics
Once you determine what your accessibility goals should be, evaluate your current content and accessibility practices, if any, to determine where you are now. Does your organization have any kind of digital accessibility practices in place? If it does not, and if none of your digital content has been specifically coded for accessibility, it probably is not accessible. There are two ways to determine whether content is accessible. Free, automated accessibility checkers are available online to help you identify some main accessibility issues such as missing tags, captions, and alt text.
Screen readers catch the rest
However, automated checkers only identify 20-30% of accessibility errors. They can’t identify significant issues like the accuracy of the tags, whether the information on the page is presented in the correct order, or whether the alt text explains the relevance of an image or graphic. For example, if an image had alt text that simply said “image,” it would pass an accessibility checker because there is something in the alt text field. However, that alt text isn’t useful because it doesn’t tell the user what the image is of or how it’s relevant to the rest of the page, so it’s still not accessible. For issues that checkers can’t catch, try using an actual screen reader to listen to digital content read aloud to you as a person with disabilities would. Then you can experience for yourself what accessibility problems an end user may experience with your content.
Once you determine what content falls short, you can break it down into projects: web pages that need coding, videos that need captions, PDFs that need tags, etc.
Make a plan to reach your goals
Take notes from other companies
Now that you have identified what digital content needs to be fixed and what it should look like when it’s done, it’s time to make a plan to reach your goals. Take a look at other companies that have overcome similar digital accessibility challenges; their strategies and tools may work for your organization as well.
Get everyone on board
Encouraging a company-wide culture of accessibility is the best way to prioritize accessibility. Upper management can promote the importance of accessibility and make sure all departments are prioritizing accessibility. Break the project into manageable pieces and delegate tasks if you’ll be tackling accessibility in-house. Many organizations find that making each content creator responsible for making their own content accessible is the easiest way to become and stay compliant.
Once you know who will be involved, make a plan to tackle all your inaccessible resources piece by piece.
Get the right tools
Determine what tools you’ll need for the job. Making content accessible can be much easier with the right software. For example, PDF remediation can be a tedious and difficult process if you’re interacting with a complicated tag tree, but partially automated tools or even fully automated solutions can make the job fast and easy while maintaining accuracy.
Prioritizing digital accessibility doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Learn about the people who will benefit from it, determine what standards you need to follow, and strategize how you will tackle making content accessible to make your resources available to everyone in 2024.
When you’re ready to prioritize accessibility for your PDFs and other digital content, let Equidox help!
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Nina comes to Equidox with years of sales and marketing experience from a variety of industries and holds a BS in Language Arts Education. Nina has a passion for words, storytelling, and information, which she believes everyone should have access to regardless of ability. After spending time as a teacher with a blind student, she became much more aware of the limitations and abilities of web accessibility, and how essential it is to those experiencing disabilities. “Being able to access information equally ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity for education, employment, and success in life.”